Review of Night World, No. 1 by L.J. Smith
Night World, No. 1
by L.J. Smith
This is a birthday present for a coworker, who as far as I know reads only that other vampire series. I wanted something similar to give her, so I bought Night World No. 1 upon the recommendation of a friend. Now I've read it for myself, so I know what it is I'll be giving away.
The first rule of Night World: Do not talk about Night World.
The second rule of Night World: Do not fall in love with humans. This includes turning a human girl into a vampire so that she won't die from cancer. But if you do, make sure they are hawt. We have standards to uphold.
The third rule of Night World: If you find that a human is in fact your soulmate, don’t panic. The universe will move Heaven and Earth to produce an all-too-convenient loophole to rules 1 and 2.
These are the laws of the universe that govern L.J. Smith's Night World. The punishment for breaking rules 1 and 2 is death. Rule 3, therefore, is very convenient, and although not codified in the book as such, I have deduced from observations regarding the ending of all three novels in this volume.
Although not per se formulaic, all three novels in this book follow the same general arc. Human boy or girl and Night Person of the opposite sex fall in love because they are "soulmates." A straw conflict ensues, but then everything works out all right (because they're soulmates, so the universe wants them to be together). There's some suspense, some humour, and once and a while the protagonist learns something. An Umberto Eco book this is not.
Nor, probably, should it be. Nevertheless, I'm in the camp that prefers to provide staunch fare for young adult readers. Harry Potter and that OTHER vampire series may not be sublime works of literature, but they're still complex. I'll give Night World credit for being relevant, but it has such a charming, unvariegated simplicity to it.
Secret Vampire, the first novel in this book, is the worst offender by far. Poppy's dying from pancreatic cancer, so her friend James, whom she's had a crush on since forever, reveals that he's a vampire and can make her a vampire as well. Of course, telling her about the Night World condemns them both to death. Thanks to a convenient discovery at the end of the book, it turns out Poppy is allowed to know about Night World after all, so they can all live vampily-ever-after.
I quite enjoyed how Smith had Poppy react to having a terminal illness and then learning her best friend is a vampire. Her reactions are real and visceral. Likewise, James also has an interesting dilemma: he's stuck in a world where humans are considered food (at best) or vermin (at worst). Divulging his feelings for Penny or to Penny means death. I suppose, as an allegory for high school, it works well enough.
For all its verisimilitude in character, Secret Vampire and the subsequent stories all lack suitable accompanying conflict. The protagonist of each story loses something, in the end: Poppy can't go back to her family (although she gets to go live with Dad, yay); Mary-Lynette isn't going to be a vampire after all, so she'll only get to see Ash once in a while; Thea has to pretend to forget her past as a witch so she can live with human Eric. Although sometimes these losses are significant, the book always emphasizes the positive aspects of the end. As a result, there's no real tension, no real catharsis involved. Bad things happen, but only to a certain degree.
Daughters of Darkness and Spellbinder did manage to improve my overall opinion of Night World. It helps that both involve more characters and, in my evaluation, better characters. The Redfern sisters, for example, each have complementary qualities that juxtapose nicely with Mary-Lynette's human sensibilities. Similarly, the sister-bond between Thea and Blaise Harman in Spellbinder, with all of its attendant difficulties and obligations, worked very well. It also probably helps that both of these stories had more to their plot than, "Oh no, I told a human about the Night World and saved her life!" There are underlying conflicts, whether it's a renegade werewolf-cum-vampire hunter or an escaped spirit of a bellicose witch.
In particular, Spellbinder was my favourite. I loved the dynamic between Thea and Blaise. Smith captures the difficult positions one will often occupy thanks to friends or family, the choices one has to make between loyalty and, say, love. She also captures the attitude of certain teenage girls, witches or not, with creepy accuracy. Spellbinder appeals to that part of us that never manages to escape high school.
So somewhat to my surprise, I enjoyed Night World. I can certainly find things about it ripe for mockery. On their own, the individual stories are somewhat weak. Together, however, they manage to resonate just enough to be meaningful.